In a happier reality, one in which the Apollo program was the beginning of lunar exploration, Dr. Paul Spudis could have looked back on a lifetime of studying the geology of the moon first hand, bounding about the surface of Earth’s nearest neighbor with a geologist’s hammer and a keen mind. As it is, Spudis was obliged to study the moon from afar. His work helped to transform our understanding of the moon from a dry rock to a body replete with resources, including billions of tons of water at the lunar poles. Spudis died suddenly of an undisclosed illness on August 29, 2018.

Inspired by the Apollo 15 astronauts

Ars Technica’s Eric Berger noted that young Paul Spudis was encouraged to switch his course of study from engineering to lunar geology while watching the mission of Apollo 15. The Apollo 15 astronauts, who had been carefully trained by geologists such as Leon Silver and Farouk El-Baz, garnered a great deal of lunar science during their three-day mission on the Hadley Rill region of the moon.

Water on the moon

Spudis, who worked at various times for the U.S. Geological Survey, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, and the Lunar and Planetary Institute, was part of the scientific teams on a variety of lunar missions. These included the DOD Clementine mission in the early 1990s, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter still in operation, and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan 1.

Each of these missions garnered evidence that water ice resides in the permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles. The presence of ice was recently confirmed beyond doubt. Spudis was also the Chief Scientist for Moon Express, a private company proposing commercial lunar landings.

The presence of perhaps billions of tons of ice on the moon changes everything.

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Ice can be melted into the water for future lunar explorers to drink or to grow crops. The water can be refined into hydrogen and oxygen to create rocket fuel, making the moon a refueling stop for missions into deep space. Spudis was a passionate advocate of returning to the moon and using its water to facilitate space exploration.

The man who sold the moon

Spudis sat on a number of presidential committees for President George H. W. Bush and President George W. Bush planning future lunar exploration. One of the great frustrations of his life was to see both Bush’s space exploration plans collapse because of bad politics and poor presidential leadership.

Spudis was the author of a number of books, including “The Once and Future Moon” and the “Value of the Moon. He wrote regular articles on lunar science and space policy for Smithsonian’s Air and Space Magazine and his Once and Future Moon Blog.

Accolades for the lunar geologist

When the news of Paul Spudis’ death was revealed, the accolades came pouring in. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed his condolences on Twitter.

When Americans return to the moon, a project that is on again thanks to the Trump administration, the event will happen in part because of the efforts of Paul Spudis. He truly deserves to be honored as a giant of the space age.